Why persuasion is so difficult

In a company, persuasion is a daily necessity. Changing operating methods, launching new ideas, successfully completing transformation projects, improving quality, ensuring safety at work, selling new products to customers, successful negotiation… This often requires investing a lot of energy for a result that does not always meet expectations. And there’s a reason for that: We do not use the ‘persuasion machine’ present in the form of the three brains that make up any human being.

The 3 brains that govern us
Did you know that the process of persuading a human being involves engaging the three brains that he possesses? Unfortunately, when we want to persuade, most of the time we deploy arguments that use just a small part of the first brain. So we shouldn’t be surprised that the impact of our communication is often unpredictable!

Our first brain is the one everyone knows. It contains 100 billion neurons. It is composed of two hemispheres. Simply put, the left side is essentially rational. It wants to understand everything, analyse everything and make a detailed assessment of the information provided to it, step by step. You should also realise that the left side does not want to take any risks. This is the origin of the resistance to change that one naturally observes in humans.

We all have a right brain hemisphere which is our spatial, creative, visual, relational side. It anticipates constantly. It is ready to take risks, without much calculation about them.

It works through mental images. Concepts, ideas, projects are all mental images, sometimes complex, that our brain has to decode.

A beneficial interaction
It was long thought that the two sides of the brain functioned with one being dominant over the other. At times either basically rational. Or then again, more emotional. But it has recently become clear that this is not the case at all. The two hemispheres are in constant interaction and continuously influence each other. When you communicate, you create a real ‘battle’ of the hemispheres in the hope that the outcome will be favourable to you.

Your communication will therefore be aimed at reassuring the left side of your target audience about the relevance of the arguments in order to control the analytical phase of reasoning. In doing so, your communication will also need to convey the ‘mental images’ that will lead to buy-in by the right side and then to action.

But never forget this: persuading an audience requires not only rational arguments, which is what 99% of managers do most of the time.

Rationality often fails to convince
Our second brain consists of our heart and our digestive system. It is composed of 540 million neurons. This second brain is the centre of our emotions. The most important decisions we make in our lives are initially processed by the two hemispheres of the first brain. But then, quite often it is based on ‘our gut feeling’ that we ultimately decide to go ahead or not, by ‘sensing’ that it’s the right decision.

In your communication you will therefore also have to integrate emotional arguments (the ‘what’s in it for me’) and action-orientated arguments to ‘move people’. By addressing the second brain and its emotional power of persuasion in this way, you double your persuasive impact.

A brain that remains little known
But there is also a third brain. This is made up of 300 billion glial cells that surround our first brain. These cells, whose name is related to the English word for ‘glue’, are specialised in various tasks: supporting neurons, supplying them with nutrients, accelerating neurotransmission, for example. We are only just now discovering the full potential of this veritable third brain.

One of the first applications we can draw from this is that the energy released by the glial cells decreases over time. A wise manager will therefore hold important meetings at the beginning of the week and at the beginning of the day rather than at the end of the week or at the end of the afternoon, because most brains will have difficulty concentrating, as the available energy has been partly exhausted.

If you want to have the energy and interaction to conduct a fruitful discussion, plan your meetings with the glial cells in mind!

Persuade by communicating
Persuasion through communication is within everyone’s reach. There’s no reason why you can’t make your persuasive power even stronger by from now on targeting the 3 brains of anyone you want to persuade. Want to find out how? Click here.

The contribution of professional communication in the management of restructurings

The beneficial effect of professional communication in any organizational restructuring, and especially when there are mass redundancies involved, is now widely recognized, backed up by facts and figures. The effect operates at a number of levels.

1. Being in control of the project right from the beginning and keeping control throughout the process

There is a saying: “If you want peace, prepare for war.” Preparing for a corporate restructuring must avoid all amateurishness and ensure the inclusion of all the target groups on which the firm depends. Specific preparation must be made to back up the internal announcement, handle the press and other mass media, and manage external communication.

Crisis scenarios will have to be studied in advance and borne in mind when formulating a crisis plan. There must be provision to train people in handling the media and uncertainty. All of this will have to be included in specific arrangements for organization and planning. A professional approach to communication will give the firm a significantly greater chance of succeeding in its plan.

2. Ensuring the senior managers’ credibility and protecting the firm’s reputation when dealing with the media in difficult circumstances, while also retaining trust among customers, banks, strategic suppliers, governmental authorities, etc.

At times of corporate restructuring, the press and other media primarily focus on the attitude the firm adopts towards the staff, rather than looking at the basic problem. A journalist knows that a firm’s announcement of an “intention” actually means that it is determined, and that nothing will prevent it from carrying out the plan! On the other hand, all eyes will be on the firm’s attitude towards industrial-relations problems. Specific training in handling the media will make it possible to frame messages that correspond with the media’s values while meeting the firm’s aims. The same is true in relation to customers, banks, important suppliers and the authorities. A proactive and personalized approach will make all the difference in terms of trust in the firm and the firm’s reputation.

 
3. In case of a collective dismissal, avoiding trade unions or staff members resorting to legal proceedings for failure to comply with Belgium’s Loi Renault, with the risk of financial and other penalties being imposed

Every word is important when there is an intention to close or restructure a firm, as it may be used against the organization. A professional approach to communication will ensure that the messages communicated both internally and externally comply scrupulously with the law. This must apply not only to documents but also in orally communicated messages from managers. Those in charge of communication must, for this purpose, have a good knowledge of what is implied by the Loi Renault and also have wide experience enabling them to brief senior and other managers. Bringing a professional approach to bear in communication should avoid legal appeals being made, based on shortcomings or communication errors at any stage.

4. Avoiding the dissemination of incorrect information that can produce conflicts

A basic rule for success in communication is being proactive. Being the first to disseminate a message is definitely an advantage over the trade unions. It is not enough, however. The announcement of a corporate restructuring must be framed according to certain communication principles if it is to be persuasive throughout the firm. Expressing the “business case” for a restructuring in terms that are clear and comprehensible to everyone is a job in itself.

It has been shown that clear and proactive communication avoids giving trade unions an opportunity to sow doubt, and makes it possible to avoid “emotional” types of industrial action.

 5. Ensuring the plan’s credibility and that its effect is beneficial for the future, with no loss of the employees who hold the key to the firm’s successful relaunch

In any restructuring, two types of message have to be communicated: messages for those who may leave the firm and, even more importantly, messages for those who will remain and on whom the firm will depend for making the relaunch or plans for change a success.

This is a delicate exercise. Achieving the right balance depends on numerous factors. Control over these is important, so as to avoid losing key employees and prepare for a successful relaunch.

6. Avoiding or limiting industrial-relations conflicts, and managing crises, while keeping the firm as fully operational as possible

Avoiding and managing industrial-relations crises are a job in its own right within the communication field. Keeping the firm operational in particularly volatile or emotional circumstances is not something where you can ad lib. In either case, expertise in managing human behavior and change is essential, as is solid experience of managing industrial-relations crises. This experience has to be communicated to the managers (through general training and specific briefing) to assist in controlling difficult situations that can arise in everyday dealings with the staff.

 7. Managing the situation when negotiations have reached a stalemate

Often, a stalemate can be overcome by a thoroughly convincing communication initiative to the staff, sometimes backed up by the media. Examples have occurred where staff representatives have refused to participate in the works-council meeting where an announcement was to be made. Other cases have been where there was a ballot to accept an industrial-relations plan, etc. There is no shortage of instruments, but what really matters is to develop a winning strategy, based on extensive experience of the field.

 8. Training and supporting the supervisory staff in their communication activities aimed at changing opinions, accepting that the information and consultation phase is over, and ensuring the business continues

Middle management is a fundamental link in communication with the grass roots. People now stress that 80% of the messages communicated by a firm have to go through the supervisory staff, with only 20% being amenable to management from the center. This is especially true for middle managers, who often find themselves very much alone when dealing with a restructuring plan and staff reactions and questions. It has been noted that appropriate training in change-related communication and frequent back-up in the form of arguments or questions & answers are really helpful for these managers. The positive influence on grass roots’ opinions and on continuing business is widely recognized.

 9. Managing the post-restructuring relaunch in order to achieve the plan’s aims

During a restructuring, a lot of energy is expended and resources deployed in the communication of the project and the management of the different steps of the process. This often creates a specific dynamic in terms of communication channels that should be kept open and alive after the restructuring. This contributes a lot to remobilizing the employees around the company project in order to provide the impetus needed to remotivate the staff and achieve the firm’s plan.

Emerging from the Covid Crisis

Unleash your company’s hidden performance

Stimulate recovery today.

After months of difficult containment and despite alarming and often alarmist forecasts, most Belgian companies are not ‘at the end of their rope’. But let’s be clear: the critical phase is coming now. In most cases it will be necessary to reorganize structures in order to control costs. But that will not be enough.

Tomorrow’s ‘winning’ companies must also look to the medium and long term. Transforming a company is of little use if it continues to be managed with pre-crisis concepts. One example: the freedom gained by employees through ‘forced’ teleworking will not disappear when the situation returns to normal. The classic hierarchy concept will be overturned. 

It is therefore time to thoroughly rethink not only your structures and ways of working, but also your ways of functioning and internal cooperation, in parallel with everything you are currently doing to return to normal.

And to help you achieve this transformation, did you know that your company has a hidden source of economic and human resources? A real reservoir of performance that can be perfectly mobilized right now to activate the economic recovery and get out of the crisis?

Mobilizing hidden performance: within the reach of any company

Let’s start with an obvious fact…often forgotten in recent years. The level of performance of your organization is strongly linked to its ability to maintain sustainable cooperation between employees, teams, hierarchical levels, operational and functional units. 

By interacting correctly, the ‘human’ organization develops and sells the products and services that keep it alive. But as nothing is perfect in this changing world, some of the interactions cause problems that need to be ‘regulated’. This regulation generates waste of time, energy, financial and human resources that it would be smarter to use to help your organization to (re)develop.

These losses of energy, human and financial resources are manifold. We will give a few examples, but check at the end of the article how your company fits into a more exhaustive list:

– Destruction of added value resulting from poor synchronization of activities

– Financial overloads caused by problematic operational implementation

– Overtime pay caused by shifts in functions due to a lack of delegation

– Time and resources consumed in the regulation of repetitive or predictable problems

– Over-consumption of resources due to a lack of steering of activities

– Losses in production and quality caused by a low level of responsibility of operators

– Implementation of change projects that are top slow, over budget or not meeting objectives because the strategy has not been cascaded throughout the company

More than 4,000 ‘dysfunctions’ of this type have been identified over 45 years of management research in companies and public organizations. They are also called hidden costs because they do not appear in balance sheets or management tools. However, they do have an impact on the final result.

These dysfunctions create losses of energy and means, but also create frustration and human disengagement. They undermine a company’s energy and strike force. Their economic impact has been calculated in several thousand companies. This real ‘source of additional performance’ fluctuates between €25,000 and €60,000 per worker per year, on a recurring basis.

Let’s take an example: a company with 100 employees has an additional source of economic performance at its fingertips, which is between €2.5 and €6 million per year. Amounts that could be used to finance digitalization, strengthen structures, improve competitiveness, invest in innovation, training, increase the investments necessary for successful transformation, support profitability.

So what are we waiting for to exploit it? 

An approach exists. It places people at the centre of economic performance.

While models such as Lean Manufacturing, Six Sigma and Kaizen have been able to contribute to the optimisation of certain processes, they no longer meet the new needs generated by the impact of the pandemic on mentalities, behaviours, working methods and the new challenges taken up in a very large number of markets.

The future belongs to companies that have truly integrated human and economic factors into their DNA. Such an approach exists: it is called ‘socio-economic’.  

This managerial approach applies itself to supporting growth by also continuously developing all the hidden sources of performance.  The additional resources released by this approach are used to strengthen competitiveness, turnover, the quality of products and services, innovation, growth, the attractiveness of work… according to the strategic priorities of each company.

Why deprive ourselves of additional sources of performance that are just waiting to be exploited to get out of the crisis?

Experience shows that up to 55% of the hidden sources of performance that all companies, whatever their size or activity, can recover annually. Provided that the elements that give rise to them are clearly identified, precisely calculated, analysed for their root cause and ‘recycled’ into performance by means of a structured management method that mobilises all the company’s stakeholders.

A socio-economic approach gives management, supervisors and employees the means and tools to effectively manage the company’s resources in their own area of responsibility. Man is no longer considered as a cog in a big machine that needs to be ‘oiled’ periodically, but as a co-producer of added value and a self-controller of his own management by dealing with malfunctions in a way that is shared by all and in close consultation with his colleagues and superiors.

This approach is neither a democracy nor a concept of self-management. On the contrary, it brings management back to its essential mission: to look after the employees so that they can look after the machines, the internal and external customers. In other words, it puts into practice the fact that in a company we are all ‘salesmen’ or ‘producers’.  

A self-financed approach, 

It is therefore in your company’s best interest to mobilise its hidden performance potential to reconnect with customers and markets, improve its competitiveness, its attractiveness to employees, its commercial strike force, its ability to innovate and to face the competition in full possession of its resources.

The socio-economic approach is entirely self-financed. The economic gains obtained in the very short term largely finance the relatively light investments in the training of management and the piloting of the method. Experience shows that self-financing is achieved on average over a period of 6 to 8 months, and very often over a much shorter period. 

With this self-financed approach, a successful exit from the crisis on a budgetary level is within the reach of every company.  Take the step! Join the thousands of companies that have already integrated this approach into their growth and development strategy. Hidden human and economic resources are at your fingertips. 

Implementation of socio-economic management.

The approach can be started as a pilot project in one or more departments or as a strategic project for a site, a factory, a company as a whole. It offers great flexibility in its implementation.

The first step in its implementation is therefore to define the scope of its application. This step allows management to concretise precise expectations, expected progress and to define the scope of intervention, which can be sequenced over time.

Second stage: start of training/concertation of management and supervisory staff on the socio-economic management method and tools.

At the same time, conducting a horizontal diagnosis and vertical diagnostics to highlight the sources generating hidden costs, monitoring groups of projects and the implementation of actions to transform them into economic and social performance.

Six areas are covered: working conditions, work organization, time management, communication-coordination-concertation, integrated training and strategic implementation.

A specific and unique software program allows to classify the sources of hidden costs by domain and reveals the convergences or divergences of opinion between management and management.

An expert’s opinion is issued together with a proposal for dealing with malfunctions by ‘baskets’.

The dysfunctions are then dealt with through project groups and priority action plans over 6 months, mobilising workers at all levels of the company.         

The method allows each employee to continuously assess the progress achieved and ensures that socio-economic know-how is passed on throughout the organization, in order to achieve sustainable results.

The first concrete results can be expected within the first 2 to 3 months, sometimes even earlier.

Most of the companies that have adopted socio-economic management have gradually integrated it into all their structures, creating a real continuous dynamic of human and economic progress. 

Does your company also encounter this type of problem? They form a hidden source of performance ready to be mobilised!

A non-exhaustive list, to date, over 45 years of research, approximately 4000 dysfunctions have been identified.

  • Poor consultation and coordination between people, teams and departments: maintenance of ‘silos’, loss of flexibility, cumbersome decision-making processes, additional costs of strategic implementation.
  • Unsuitable working conditions: impact on concentration, motivation, productivity and the quality of the work performed, additional cost of operational implementation.
  • Deficient communication: partial information and lack of feedback to steer change, insufficient valorisation of the skills potential present in the company, fixed corporate culture, strong resistance to change.
  • Weak management of working time: recurrent loss of time leading to overtime, multiple and unmanaged meetings, loss of quality in decisions, loss of time and efficiency in strategic implementation.
  • Fragmentation of working time: frequent interruptions due to inefficient work organization, chronic emergency work with impact on the quality of work, services, products, loss of productivity, cost of overtime.
  • Deficient or uncoordinated programming of activities: additional cost due to loss of time and energy, over-consumption of financial and human resources.
  • High staff turnover: loss of efficiency, additional recruitment costs, negative impact on the implementation of change and strategy.
  • High absenteeism: additional cost of temporary staff.
  • Lack of versatility in teams: failure to adapt teams to new and future needs, cumbersome and over-costing strategic implementation.
  • Insufficient, poorly adapted or poorly used programming and monitoring tools: lack of ‘steering’ of teams due to the lack of suitable indicators.
  • Non-integrated training: difficulties in developing skills, additional cost of training that is not adapted to the needs of the company.
  • Poor implementation of the strategy: failure to disseminate the strategy at all levels, failure to achieve the required transformations and the company’s objectives, chronic underperformance of management and staff in implementing the strategy and making changes.

These dysfunctions have two types of impact:

Economic impact: lower productivity, quality problems, loss of competitiveness, higher financing costs, reduced capacity for innovation, poor strategic implementation, increased costs, failure to achieve economic and financial objectives.

Social impact: Insufficient mobilisation of human potential to achieve change and goals, corporate culture frozen by strong resistance to change, lack of staff flexibility, under-utilisation of talents and skills, increased absenteeism and staff turnover, increased costs of strategic implementation.

The WWWWWooooaaaH of Digital Transformation

With each passing day, the buzz word “digital transformation” rises higher on the CEO’s strategic agenda. Business leaders are moving forward with digital transformation at varying paces. and with varying success. They attempt to integrate innovative digital technology into all areas of their business  to deliver additional value to customers, reduce costs, implement new business models and make use of large scale data analysis (”big data”) to drive business decisions. Undoubtedly, more than ever before, IT is  imperative to the implementation of the business strategy.  Yet successful implementing digital transformation is as much a leadership challenge as  a technical one.  Aristotle famously structured deliberate intentions through 5 Ws – why, what, who, when, where. We will explore together how 5W can help business leaders approach the implementation of their digital transformation strategy with confidence.

Starting with the why and what, have you put all the wood behind one arrow? Or as we say in Dutch – are all the noses pointing in the same direction? 

Members of  the senior leadership team are expected not only to support the CEO on business strategies but also to offer their own insights and actively contribute to key decisions.  To leverage the benefits of your digital strategy, it is however essential that  the leadership team comes to agree on the  “what” and the “why”. If the leadership team is not aligned, their direct reports will receive conflicting objectives, which will result in difficult decision taking and hence excessive hidden costs for the project.

  • Do you agree on what your customers really need?
  • Could a digital market entrant provide a better customer experience at a lower cost?
  • Do you agree on which capabilities you need to develop in the company to outperform / reduce costs / obtain reliable data that can be used to further fuel your digital strategy?
  • What will you execute first?

Once the strategic direction is clear about the what and why, the  implementation addresses the whowherewhen, and the how.

The Who – who are the stakeholders and who will drive the project?

Projects by their very nature are uncertain. Digital transformation projects, even if they seem relatively  straightforward involve many stakeholders and a high level of complexity and task dependencies.  It is therefore essential to have a digital transformation leader with the skill, knowledge and experience to plan and execute the projects on your roadmap.  

Equally crucial is the early identification of the stakeholders in the project: on one hand the internal stakeholders in the organisation and on the other hand, external partners, customers and suppliers.

Any  successful strategy  implementation  depends on whether your employees will be able and motivated to meet business goals and drive success. 

  • Have you communicated what will be expected from your managers and workforce?
  • Do your management teams have priority action plans in place to meet business objectives?
  • What new skills are needed to handle this change? How (early) can you identify who will need retraining?
  • What’s in it for the stakeholders ?

If a majority of employees feel disconnected from the strategy and don’t understand why decisions are being made, resistance to change will be high.  Which is why a communication and change management plan has to be worked out from the onset of the project – in the preparation phase.

Have you spent some thoughts about your approach towards external partners?

  • Will you brainstorm  with your partners, suppliers or customers  around the new digital capabilities, do a pilot, test some ideas?
  • Do you have an external communication plan and roadmap?
  • Who needs to be working on this from your legal, M&S, Procurement departments?
The When – when will you pick the fruits of your project?

Often, it is thought that setting external deadlines creates urgency, and urgency is needed to get things done. In reality, setting a target date without having a sound project plan and schedule to base it on, is not a good idea at all.  If an unrealistic target date is imposed, chances are that people on the team will be taking unacceptable risks, such as shortcutting test periods and keeping an eye shut on the quality of their work.  Inevitably, this will end in a failed project that will not deliver the expected benefits. 

  • How reliable is your project schedule, what risks have been accounted for in the contingency?
  • What are the important milestones?
  • How will you know if the project is on track?
  • How will you deal with escalations and inevitable roadblocks?

Urgency should not be confused with priority. Assign the right priority to the project, and kick-off the planning and risk management process as soon as possible.

The Where – where will your project be delivered?

The « where » question may seem trivial but is not.  It applies to the data stream that drives your digitalised business processes, whether for manufacturing, industrial or information processing purposes.   Having a clear picture of the data flows  within your business and with external organisations (suppliers, customers, regulators, cloud applications, digital ecosystems) will help structure all the activities needed to implement the changes.

  • Where (and by whom) is data and information captured, created, stored, used or transferred within the business or with external organisations ?
  • Where is the part of the data flow that is critical for your business and drives your competitive edge?
  • Which part of the data flow can be carried out with readily available software packages?
  • Where do you need flexible but effective connectors – humans or technical API’s – to make sure the information chain remains uninterrupted as it crosses company and system boundaries?
And finally – How?

Having addressed the Why, What, Who, When and Where, you may be tempted to ask – How?

My advice would be :  Hardily!

 “To turn really interesting ideas and fledgling technologies into a company that can continue to innovate for years, requires a lot of discipline.” – Steve Jobs